BOSTON (AP) — Federal justice officials have been pressing states including Massachusetts to reopen houses of worship as the country battles the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday.
Baker said his decision to shutter houses of worship during the state of emergency “was the right thing to do, but I hated doing it.” They have been allowed to restart religious services this week as long as they practice social distancing as part of the first phase of the state’s reopening plan.
“The Department of Justice has made very clear to a number of states that peoples' ability to access church and practice their faith is a constitutional question that they are pushing people at the state level pretty hard on,” Baker told WGBH News. "I couldn’t ignore that.”
Baker declined to say whether he would support efforts by some in the state Legislature to mail ballots to every registered voter for the fall state elections.
“I really haven’t spent any time thinking about it,” Baker said. “People think this is something that needs to happen soon? I mean the elections are a long way away.”
Baker also said he hopes coronavirus cheek swab or nasal swab tests that can be self-administered will be available this summer, which could help the state increase testing.
Baker said he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito have been tested once after he said they had “conversations at a distance” with Massachusetts Public Safety Secretary Thomas Turco who later tested positive for the virus. Baker said he and Polito both tested negative.
SMALL BUSINESS LOANS
Boston has distributed nearly $4 million in grants to more than 1,100 small businesses across the city struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The businesses receiving grants through the Small Business Relief Fund represent industries most-impacted by closures, policies, or general loss of revenues due to the pandemic, according to a statement Thursday from the office of Mayor Marty Walsh.
“Through the Small Business Relief Fund we have been proud to support Boston’s small businesses with a swift and direct infusion of funds through a fiscally responsible and equitable system that will help businesses stay open, pay employees, and strengthen our local business districts,” Walsh said.
Walsh also announced Thursday that the city's licensing board has taken steps to remove outdated restrictions to help small businesses and restaurants as part of the COVID-19 reopening process.
CVS TESTING SITES
CVS Health is opening 12 new drive-thru coronavirus testing sites at pharmacies across Massachusetts on Friday, the company said.
The new sites will utilize self-swab tests that won’t require people to leave their vehicles. No testing will be done in stores. The tests are done under the supervision of a CVS employee and results are usually available in three days. Preregistration is required.
The Rhode Island-based company opened nine such sites in Massachusetts earlier this month and plans to open 1,000 sites across the nation by the end of the month.
The sites opening Friday are in Chelsea, Falmouth, Haverhill, New Bedford, Salem, Shrewsbury, Southwick, Waltham, Winchendon, Wrentham and two in Holbrook.